Last August, as I traversed the country reporting on the Trump movement in exile, I stopped over in Black Hills, South Dakota, to witness an extraordinary migratory event. Every year, hundreds of thousands of bikers hop on their Harley-Davidsons and drive thousands of miles to the open-sky freeways surrounding Mount Rushmore to attend the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, where they spend two weeks joyriding in shiny chrome flocks, thronging to Kid Rock at Buffalo Chip and knocking back Wild Turkey around campfires at night. While the Rally itself is apolitical, the merchandise is most definitely not: vendors lining the highways hawk every manner of culture-war totems, from “Trump Won” stickers and Thin Blue Line flags to Three Percenter and other right-wing militia gear.
I was reminded of the Sturgis rally this past week as I scanned the headlines for any sign of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the patrician, centi-millionaire couple who were, for a time, arguably the most important members of the unruly administration of Donald Trump. Their soft power in the White House was often exaggerated but nevertheless undeniable. In the early days of 2017, Trump was a magnet for second-stringers, opportunists, and ne’er-do-wells: Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Michael Flynn, Michael Dubke, Sebastian Gorka, K. T. McFarland. But as one after another fled or were fired, Jared and Ivanka were the last ones standing—often performing the Gary Cohn or Mark Milley role as advisers who could hide the nuclear football or monitor his intake of red pills.
And yet, during the supposed interregnum between Trump administrations, as the ex-president’s allies plot his return from his “Winter White House” in Mar-a-Lago, the power unit known as Javanka is noticeably absent. “I haven’t heard Jared’s name in a political context since January,” an influential Trumpworld advisor told me. Ivanka, who briefly flirted with a Senate campaign in Florida, called Marco Rubio sometime after the Capitol insurrection to tell him she wouldn’t be running.
That’s not to say that South Florida has been quiet. On the contrary, one cannot throw a stone in Palm Beach these days without hitting some Republican strategist or Trump ally or aspiring ally. The back patio at Mar-a-Lago hosts a constant stream of conservative media personalities, rich G.O.P. donors, and amatuer election-fraud investigators. Trump, after all, remains the obvious favorite to win the G.O.P. nomination in 2024, and lower-polling aspirants like Mike Pence and Nikki Haley would surely step aside if he did. The greater mystery is whether another Trump campaign would include his adviser-daughter and son-in-law, both of whom were still registered Democrats when he ran in 2016. (Neither responded to a request for comment.)
What will Javanka do? In June, a dozen or so people familiar with their thinking let it be known to CNN that the couple had distanced themselves from Trumpworld, as Jared tired of the ex-president’s election-fraud ranting and Ivanka refocused her energies on their three kids and her businesses. Kushner has also been working to launch an investment firm, Affinity Partners, that would be headquartered in Miami. But the clearest sign of their absence can be measured in the flavor of guests who now frequent Mar-A-Lago and Bedminster: Jair Bolsonaro’s children; fringe youth activists, a women-only fan club for Trump run by the daughter of a Stop The Steal organizer. In mid-August, Trump hosted the MyPillow C.E.O. and election “truther” Mike Lindell for dinner, along with a posse of cyber experts who had claimed, just days earlier, that they had data proving that the election was stolen.
Presumably one of Trump’s two longest-serving White House advisers might have counseled him against continued affiliation with Lindell, if either had the inclination to do so. But although they bought a $24 million-dollar mansion on the exclusive Indian Creek Island—reinforcing just how much Florida has become the epicenter of the G.O.P.—Javanka appears to have sidelined themselves from the political intrigues, Trump tantrums, and shadow cabinet meetings potentially taking place within Mar-A-Lago. The consensus among the populist base, Florida’s political class, and ‘16 campaign veterans is that the two are simply burned out and done with it all for now.
It’s not for lack of political acumen, or diminished influence over Trump, or some major blowup between the two entities. Jared will always be Trump’s son-in-law. Ivanka will always be his beloved daughter. Both are mind-bogglingly wealthy, with enough money to outspend your average G.O.P. megadonor, and have a modest track record of steering Trump away from whatever chicanery piqued his interest at any given moment. If they wanted power and influence, they could get it back in an instant.
But when the New York Post snapped aerial photos of the new Indian Creek house back in late July, the tabloid noted that no one appeared to have lived there in quite some time. The hot tubs were drained, the tiled patio seemed to be an abandoned construction site, and the massive swimming pool—one of the house’s most distinctive features—was full of “putrid dark green” water. Perhaps the couple was doing renovations, but humor me: if that’s not a metaphor that writes itself, I don’t know what is.
Jared and Ivanka’s absence also magnifies another element of the Trump post-presidency: the other siblings are everywhere. Don Jr. and Eric are both attending fundraisers and rallies and public events, and posting daily lib-owning memes on their social media accounts, while daughter-in-law Lara Trump—no longer running for Senate in North Carolina—has hosted interviews with Trump himself on alternative platforms like Rumble. Ivanka always polled well with Republicans, of course, but neither she nor her husband are badly missed by the grassroots base, which views the couple as out-of-touch Trump surrogates at best and RINOs at worst. The vitriolic response to Ivanka’s vaccine selfie on Instagram, for instance, revealed the widening cultural gap between the party’s establishment and its grassroots supporters.
More worrisome, from the perspective of the president’s former minders, are the conspiracists and fringe figures whose various rantings catch the eye of the former president and remain lodged in his brain. If there is to be a Trump 2024 campaign, it will need operators and architects beyond the RNC infrastructure to keep its figurehead on task and on track. In the past, the job of filling those jobs fell to Trump’s favorite children. Going forward, that job might not even exist.
Of course, the Trump-Kushners, like Trump himself, tend to fly by the seat of their pants. If the private sector is inhospitable or Jared’s fund just becomes a glorified family office, a return to politics may be appealing as a pivot, especially given the modest structure they provide for an undisciplined candidate in need of their surrogacy. Two thirds of Republican voters now believe that the 2020 election was stolen, according to the most recent YouGov poll. But it’s likely that these voters would put up with two cucks behind the scenes if it led to their man taking back the White House. As popular as he is, it’s hard to imagine him winning any office alongside the crowd he runs with now. And no one knows that better than Javanka. They may have been known as “the interns” in the West Wing, but they’re holding Trump’s cards now.